On January 5th, as the city of Denver begins to close its blinds and turn to bed, one neighborhood illuminates, una luz a la vez, and comes to life. Down graffiti-ed alleyways and up indie cafe-lined streets, the sounds of Mariachi and New Wave music mingle in the winter air as paint and canvases unfurl from every direction. Here, in a district occupying about five square blocks near Lincoln Park in Denver, is a sort of urban Venice, a blooming center for arts and culture in the Metro Area.
This metropolitan haven is called the Santa Fe Arts District, an area which extends primarily on Denver’s Santa Fe Drive between 5th and 11th avenue. The district is well-known for its concentration of more than thirty independent (and strikingly diverse) galleries and for its traditionally Latinx roots, housing cultural institutions such as the Museo de las Americas, Su Teatro Cultural and Performing Arts Center, and Colorado Ballet. Perhaps most notably, however, are its First Friday Art Walks.
Every month of every year, in sunshine and snowstorms alike, thousands of people join the hundreds of artists (who display their work in galleries, in studios, as a part of co-ops, in alleyways, on the streets, and pretty much everywhere else on the street) along Santa Fe Drive. They are joined by food trucks with offerings ranging from your typical hipster farm-to-table comfort food to traditional Venezuelan arepas to the ever-intriguing fusion of Latin and Asian cuisine.
As its popularity increases, the district has maintained is its persevering authenticity despite increasing tourist traffic. The influx of people from other places in the Metro Area is bringing consistent business and appreciation to local artists and shops, not driving them away. Small businesses and street art are left untouched by larger corporations and polished streets. And, at least to the outside observer, the Latinx foundations of this extraordinary neighborhood have continued to thrive.
The only way to truly understand the wildly expressive nature of the Santa Fe Arts District is to witness it for oneself. Nothing quite compares to walking the streets in person—so, if you’re looking for someone to join you on your camino down Santa Fe Drive, I’ll be waiting with sueños of streets colored by, well, color.